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Top Gun: Maverick (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 29, 2022


Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Monica Barbaro, Charles Parnell, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis, Manny Jacinto, Bashir Salahuddin, Jake Picking, Raymond Lee, Lyliana Wray, Jean Louisa Kelly, Bob Stephenson, Chelsea Harris and India Everett.

Screenplay by Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 125 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Confession time: I never liked the 1986 smash hit film Top Gun. I thought it was a jingoistic celebration of war in a way that was so popular at the time. (See also: Rambo: First Blood II and the Missing in Action series.) The main character (and most of his friends) was horribly cocky and really kind of an asshole. The love story was ridiculous. It’s even negatively colored my opinion of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

I hadn’t seen the film in years, so the night before I had the screening of Top Gun: Maverick, I decided to rewatch it as a refresher. I made it about halfway through before I decided that life is too short, and I went to sleep.

All of which makes it rather surprising to say this: Top Gun: Maverick is better than the original. Much, much better, by a long shot. In fact, it’s pretty darned good.

Good for them: taking a bad movie and making it better. Talk about going through the danger zone.

The first – and most important – change in Maverick is with the title character. Tom Cruise’s Maverick is no longer the brash, egotistical cadet he was in the original film. He’s gone through some rough times in the past 30-40 years, and it has made him more introspective, more unsure of himself, more human. It’s a good fit for the character.

The characters surrounding him are also much more relatable. Gone is the cocky arrogance that suffused so much of the original film. Well, not completely gone – one character is still like that (Hangman, played by Glen Powell), but it is done with good humor and works somewhat as a contrast this time around.

Thirty-some years on, Maverick’s brashness and insistence on his own way has him on the outs with the modern Navy. He’s still a Captain after all these years, even though most officers his age would have been promoted up the chain of command. (He claims it’s by choice, but you’re never sure.) He is working on the latest of his dead-end outposts – one which is just about to be shuttered, and Maverick’s recklessness may have sped up the process.

However, he does still have an ace up his sleeve – his old nemesis Iceman is now a four-star Admiral and keeps interceding on his behalf. Therefore, Maverick is transferred back to the scene of his greatest triumph – the Top Gun school – to help plan for a dangerous mission. Problem is, the Admiral in charge of the post (Jon Hamm) has nothing but contempt for Maverick and has no intention to let Maverick be too hands on in the mission. Instead, he wants him to teach some of the best young fliers in the military.

One of those fliers – perhaps not completely coincidentally – was Rooster (Miles Teller) the young son of Maverick’s late friend and partner Goose and his wife Carole. (Since Goose was killed in the original film and Meg Ryan decided not to return as Carole, the characters are not shown in new footage, but the film makes generous use of footage of Ryan and Anthony Edwards in flashbacks from the first film.) Rooster is estranged from Maverick, blaming him for both his father’s death and also a delay in Rooster’s own military career.

The rest of the fliers are a pretty standard bunch, with lots of slightly cliched military types – of which only Powell’s Hangman, Monica Barbaro’s Phoenix and Lewis Pullman’s Bob stand out. And if you think Maverick isn’t going to get into the cockpit at some point, you haven’t seen enough movies.

Romance also reenters Maverick’s life in the form of Penny (Jennifer Connelly), an old girlfriend who owns the local bar. (Kelly McGillis, who played Maverick’s love interest in the first film, was not contacted to reprise her role, undoubtedly because she has not aged as gracefully as Connelly has – at least partially due to the fact that Connelly is 13 years younger.) However, Connelly is wonderfully likable in the role, again grounding Maverick and making him more human. And no, he doesn’t do a creepy serenade to her at the bar like in the first film.

There is also a surprisingly heartrending scene with Maverick’s old nemesis-turned-friend, Iceman. Critically ill actor Val Kilmer goes above and beyond the call of duty, fighting his own infirmities and the fact that he has lost his voice to throat cancer to make his sequence particularly touching.

Honestly, the final military battle goes on for a bit too long, but other than that Top Gun: Maverick is a wonderful surprise and one of the better action films of the year.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: May 27, 2022.


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